After months of student complaints and protests, the Penn Book Center will stay open in the fall.
The news comes after the Penn Book Center announced that it would close in May after 60 years of business due to financial hardship and competition from chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble. A petition calling on Penn to help the bookstore stay open and student protests extended the bookstore's lease until the end of August.
Now, the Penn Book Center is set to stay open in the fall — but under new ownership and a new name. Former Penn Book Center owners Ashley Montague, who graduated from Penn in 1999 with a Ph.D. in English, and Michael Row, who received a Wharton Ph.D. in 2001, sold the Penn Book Center’s assets Monday to owners Matthew Duques, English professor at the University of North Alabama, and his wife, writer Diana Bellonby.
Montague wrote in an email last week that she and Row were working out the final details left in the transition of ownership and “just need to agree on a final price” for the inventory to sell to the new owners. Bellonby said Montague and Row made the decision to sell because the bookstore has not been profitable for a few years.
2019 College graduate Derek Willie, who studied English, said he is “excited” to see the Penn Book Center stay open, as it has become a place he has come to “really value” on campus.
“I’m happy that my initially pessimistic prediction has been proved wrong,” Willie said.
Duques said although he is not sure how much summer sales affected the lease agreement with the University, the strong summer sales certainly did not hurt the bookstore's cause.
“I do think [the sales] helped — that the store was doing really well over the summer — for us to say to [Facilities and Real Estate Services] that this is a business people not only care about but use regularly, and it's of real importance to not just the school but the community,” Duques said.
After the announcement that the store was slated to stay open in the summer, supporters brainstormed whether the Penn Book Center should change its name to distinguish it from the Penn Bookstore.
Yang updated the petition on July 18 asking students, faculty, and Philadelphia residents to vote on one of the three potential new names for the Penn Book Center – Muse City Books, 34 West Books, and Free Verse Books.
“A fact that many have acknowledged: the name Penn Book Center, though historic, is both a blessing and a curse,” Yang wrote in the petition update. “A new name will clarify the store’s independence, while also helping to resuscitate it.”
Bellonby added a lot of people confuse the Penn Book Center with the University’s campus bookstore and hopes a different name will benefit the bookstore in the long term. Bellonby said, however, the polling results were “not conclusive” with no clear winner and that they will spend the next couple of months figuring out the new name.
The exchange of owners is almost sealed for the Penn Book Center. Duques said he and his wife will “ideally” sign the lease agreement with the University early next week.
“Penn has been really helpful in giving us a good lease and working with us to set things up so we can keep things going as a business, [and] so we can afford to do some renovations in the space that we think will help bring more folks into the store and help make the store a community space,” Duques said.
Duques said the renovations include aesthetic changes in the store that will make the space “more conducive” to community events, readings held by authors and poets, and book clubs.
“We have no plans to make the store bigger or overhaul its identity as a bookstore,” Duques said. “We just want to save it and keep it going.”
Despite the renovations, Bellonby said there will not be a second location for the Penn Book Center. She added, however, if she and Duques were to open up another independent bookstore in Philadelphia, it would have its own identity and be “totally different” than the Penn Book Center.
“We have no desire to ever be a franchise,” Bellonby said.
Duques thanked Montague and Row for their persistence to keep the bookstore alive.
“Saving the store is a cool story, but the fact that they managed to keep it going in the face of Barnes & Noble and Amazon, in my opinion, is a pretty cool story too," he said.
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